Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 - 29 April 2009
Issue No. 944
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Painting false doors from Herakleopolis Magna

THE HERAKLEOPOLIS false doors, which date back to the First Intermediate Period and Early Middle Kingdom era, display the skills of local artisans. Among these magnificent doors are those belonging to Lady Meret, who held the title of "king's ornament"; Khety, a funerary priest, and Ipy, the king's royal acquaintance.

The door of Lady Meret is very well decorated. Its centre features the deceased with a tight tunic and a tripartite wigs sitting in a short-backed chair with animal feet. She holds a lotus flower on her left hand that she points towards her mouth, while her left arm is stretched towards the offering table. Below the image is the door, framed by inscriptions that mention the seven holy oils used in funerary ceremonies. The door and the picture are surrounded by a cylindrical frame that represents a rolled up mat; above, a reddish cymatium curves slightly and imitate the cornices made with the ribs of palm leaves placed on top of the walls. The different titles and names of Meret are engraved on the jambs and lintels of the door, followed by the names of the gods Anubis and Osiris with their traditional epithets and funerary offerings.

This false door, which faces east, was supported on the west wall of the chapel of the tomb and appeared beside another false door of a man called Khety who may have been Meret's husband, or at least someone close to her, as they both chose the same eternal home to continue living in the Other World.

The door of Khety is extremely important from the point of view of both ritual and documentation, since it offers abundant information about the name and titles of the man who was buried. Archaeologist Carmen Die says this door is a clear example as in it Khety is designated as the "Beloved of his lord", "funerary pries", " uab priest in the chapel" and "overseer of the wine warehouses".

"All these titles bring us closer to the personality and life of Khety, as well as telling us that he was close to the sovereign's entourage and that he carried out priestly, funerary and administrative functions when taking charge of the department related to wine," Die says. The door is in a very good state of preservation and still bears the red and blue polychromy covering a large part of its surface. On the centre the deceased is shown sitting in front of a table laden with offerings for his soul. The food is abundant and is accompanied by a series of containers underneath the table. The inscriptions refer to the offerings consisting of bread, beer, oxen and fowl are repeated in several places on the false door. The gods Anubis and Osiris are depicted on the jambs and lintels, which end with a representation of the deceased. On the right he is shown wearing a short triangular skirt and holding a scepter, while on the left, he is wearing a longer skirt and holds one hand to his chest as he lets the other fall the length of his body.

On the door, above the frame and below the moulding, is an imitation wood veneer decorated with reddish panels; on this appear the two udjat eyes and the representation of the seven sacred vases without their names.

The door of Ipy stands out because of the polychromy that has been preserved. Egyptian aesthetics, very different to what we normally imagine, said Die, preferred colours, garish colours with red, blue and yellow predominating. If the original colours of many monuments had been preserved, she asserted, our perception of Egyptian art would be significantly different.

Ipy sits in front of his table holding offerings above the sign of an ox leg, vegetables and perhaps pieces of meat. Ipy has reddish skin as is usual portrayals of men, and his bright blue cape stands out in the central picture.

The figure of the owner appears at the end of the two jambs. He is shown standing and facing the interior of the niche, with a triangular pleated skirt ending a point which is a little short for him and too extended on the right jamb. On the left jamb, the design and execution of the figure are more carefully done. The door, Die says, also has the two udjat eyes, which enable the deceased to see from inside the tomb what is happening on the outside without leaving his resting place. "As the door faced east, towards the sunrise, every day the deceased could see the dawn of the sun and evoke his daily rebirth."

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